The Natural

Randy Youngman

With a homegrown swing and a vivid imagination, Bubba Watson shows us there’s more than one path to success
The thing I like most about Bubba Watson, the Houdini of the 2012 Masters, is that he is self-taught.
You can’t teach somebody to hit a 40-yard rope-hook out of the trees with a 52-degree gap wedge. But apparently it is possible to learn it in your imagination.
When Bubba was 6 years old, his father, Gerry – a construction worker who seldom broke 100 – showed his boy how to grip a golf club and let him figure out the rest.
The Watson home in Bagdad, Fla., then a lumber-company town in the Florida panhandle, was on a 1.5-acre lot with a lot of tall trees, so there was plenty of room for Bubba to design his make-believe country club.
Bubba drew a 5-foot circle in the dirt driveway and pretended that was the hole. Then he dropped plastic golf balls all around the house and learned to work the ball both ways, fading it around on one side and hooking it around on the other, to get to that dirt circle.
“So I learned to cut it,” Bubba said a few years ago, in his PGA Tour Media Guide bio. “If you know about Wiffle balls or plastic balls, [they’re] hard to cut. Then I learned to hook it the other way, hit it high over limbs, hit it low under limbs … I’d say non-stop every day from 6 to 12 years old. Instead of playing with trucks out in the yard, I’d play with a ball and a club.”
And now, as Paul Harvey used to say, you know the rest of the story.
Now you know how Bubba learned to hit the seemingly impossible shot from the pine straw deep in trees off the 10th fairway at Augusta National, the one that started low as it rocketed under the pine limbs, between two rows of spectators and gained altitude as it curved around the corner and soared toward the green, where it landed, spun sideways and settled 12 feet from the cup.
“We had 135 [yards] to the front [of the green] … I think we had like 164 [yards to the] hole, give or take…” Watson said matter-of-factly in the media interview room after donning the coveted green jacket. “Hit a 52-degree, my gap wedge, hooked it around about 40 yards, hit [it] about 15 feet off the ground until it got under the tree and then started rising. Pretty easy.”
Easy? Maybe if you have plastic golf balls and a vivid imagination.
Flip side: This is why I admire self-taught players such as Bubba. He has honed a distinctive upright swing, hits his all-pink driver higher than anyone on the planet, works the ball right or left on almost every shot – call it the Wiffle ball effect – and nearly comes out of his shoes when he really goes after it.
Sometimes his feet also are moving during his takeaway – an absolute no-no if you listen to all of the prominent swing coaches and TV analysts. But that’s “Bubba Golf,” as he calls it. It works for him, which is the only thing that matters, just as Arnold Palmer, Lee Trevino, Doug Sanders and many other old-time pros got the most out of their unique swings.
In sharp contrast, so many cookie-cutter PGA Tour swings are picturesque, effective … and boring.
OK, and I’ll concede that some Champions Tour pros like Allen Doyle and Dana Quigley make me feel better about my, ahem, abbreviated takeaway.
When I decided to start playing this silly game 20 years ago, I went to Mile Square Golf Course in Fountain Valley and was taught in my first lesson how to hold the club with an interlocking grip and make a backswing.
Suffice to say, it took several months to consistently get the ball airborne, and through trial and mostly error, my backswing got progressively shorter. Whatever works, right?
It wasn’t until several years later that I learned the secret of golf, during a lesson from Doug Booth, then the director of instruction at Costa Mesa Country Club.
Booth told me to hit a few balls, with whatever club I felt most comfortable, so he could observe and then try to help me.
Good thing Charles Barkley wasn’t there that day, because I was hitting everything fat.
After chunking about two of every three shots, I turned around and asked Booth what I was doing wrong.
“It’s loft,” he said.
So I took out a short iron. Similar results. I hit about one of every three shots fat.
What’s the deal?
“Loft,” Booth repeated.
I didn’t understand. What about loft?
“L-O-F-T,” he said, enunciating each letter. “Lack Of Fundamental Talent.”
And then Booth burst out laughing.
Funny guy.
In all honesty, Booth changed my grip slightly, which enabled me to hit the ball out of the rough consistently for the first time in my life, and my game got progressively better.
I’m certainly not saying swing coaches are superfluous, but I love the fact you can succeed at the highest level without one. Right, Bubba?
Painful to watch: I’m guessing most avid golfers cringed when South Korean I.K. Kim missed a 1-foot putt on the 72nd hole that would have won the Kraft Nabisco Championship, an LPGA major, and then lost in a playoff to Sun Young Yoo.
It is believed to be the shortest clinching putt ever missed in a professional major, taking Doug Sanders (3-footer, 1970 British Open) and Scott Hoch (2-footer, 1989 Masters) off the hook.
Incredibly, Kim’s costly lip-out wasn’t the shortest missed putt in a major. According to golf historians, Hale Irwin missed – actually whiffed – a 2-inch putt during the third round of the 1983 British Open at Royal Birkdale and finished one stroke behind eventual winner Tom Watson.
Joke of the Month: A woman goes into the local newspaper office and asks for help writing an obituary for her recently deceased husband. She is told the fee is 50 cents a word.
She thinks for a moment and says, “OK, let it read: ‘Patrick O’Connor died.’ ”
The obit editor tells her there is a seven-word minimum.
Flustered, she heads for the door, then stops, turns around and returns to the obit desk.
“OK, now I’ve got it,” she says. “Make it read: Patrick O’Connor died; golf clubs for sale.”
Parting shot: Famed sports writer Grantland Rice was once a member at Augusta National.
Does that mean there’s hope for me?
Randy Youngman has been writing about golf in California, at the professional and amateur levels, for more than 20 years. He is also an admitted golfaholic.

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